Jyothi Rengarajan, PhD, MS

Associate Professor of Medicine

Emory University School of Medicine


Dr. Rengarajan received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2001 in the Biological Sciences in Public Health Program where she studied transcriptional regulation in T cells. She remained at Harvard to complete her post-doctoral fellowship and then as a Research Associate in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease at the Harvard School of Public Health, where her research focused on the pathogenesis of tuberculosis. In September 2007, Dr. Rengarajan joined Emory University as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine at the School of Medicine. She has an extensive background in molecular immunology, microbiology and functional genomics and is based at the Emory Vaccine Center as a Core Scientist. Dr Rengarajan is also an Emory Global Health Institute Distinguished Fellow. She is developing a research program in the area of bacterial pathogenesis and host defense with a focus on tuberculosis research and vaccine development.

We are interested in understanding how pathogens evade host immunity. Tuberculosis (TB) provides an excellent system to dissect the molecular basis of infection due to the dynamic interactions between Mycobacterium tuberculosis and immune cells. M. tuberculosis is one of the world’s most successful human pathogens and is responsible for the deaths of approximately 2 million people annually. The AIDS pandemic and MDR-TB further underscore the global public health challenge that TB presents. Developing vaccines and better therapeutics for TB is thus an important goal in our research efforts.

The major questions that we seek to address are: How does M. tuberculosis survive in the host? Why does the host fail to eliminate M. tuberculosis? A fundamental aspect of TB that encompasses both these questions involves the M. tuberculosis-macrophage interface. Macrophages are central to host defense against microbes, but M. tuberculosis has evolved to evade their anti-microbial functions. We have used functional genomics to comprehensively determine the genome-wide requirements for M. tuberculosis survival and adaptation in host macrophages and in vivo in mice. We are characterizing several mutants that are defective for intracellular growth to better understand pathogenesis mechanisms and bacterial modulation of immunity using in vitro and in vivo model systems. Other interests include understanding mechanisms of drug resistance in mycobacteria and identifying targets for new chemotherapeutics.

On the host side, we have begun dissecting the molecular pathways involved in the host innate immune response to infection. We are developing proteomic approaches to analyzing signaling pathways in infected macrophages and dendritic cells using mass spectrometry techniques. These studies will shed light on how M. tuberculosis manipulates innate immune function at the molecular level. Parallel studies with mutant strains that survive poorly in macrophages will help highlight pathways manipulated by wild type M. tuberculosis and identify targets for immunomodulatory therapies.

Long term interests include translational research within human population-based settings of tuberculosis infection in endemic areas of the world. Human studies are important for understanding tuberculosis latency and host protective immunity for vaccine development.

Dr. Rengarajan participates in the teaching, administrative activities and conference of the Division of Infectious Diseases including lectures, interviews, journal club, case of the week and research seminars.